Sunday, August 30, 2009

A class of their own

You have no idea how much will power I sometimes have to use NOT to put pictures of my grandchildren on my blog. My daughter just sent me a new batch of photographs and I want to plaster them all over everywhere. But I won’t.

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Instead, I am going to tell you about the village show. We haven’t had a horticultural show in the village for seven years, so when it was resurrected this year I thought I’d enter our fantastic blackcurrant jam which (in my opinion) is the best jam we’ve ever made.

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The other reason for entering was to see what it’s like being involved in this kind of event. I listen to the unseemly spats between competitors about their exhibits on The Archers, so I thought I’d go down to a real village hall and get some copy.

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I did, but I’m not going to share it here. All I will say is that I didn’t mind at all not winning the competition in Class 39 – a jar of jam. What did unleash an unQuakerly surge of fury was the fact that the first prize was awarded to a jar of marmalade! How could the judges

a/ decide that a jar of marmalade was a jar of jam?

b/ be so tactless as to award first prize to something that didn’t fit the class it was entered for?

You have no idea how I seethed and fumed all the way up our lane. It’s a fascinating insight. I shall no longer think the scriptwriters of The Archers are making stuff up. These kinds of primal rages really are engendered by such petty issues...and it's very funny.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

“Right, monkey”

Dave and I have just spent half an hour trying to work out how to describe the Sheffield pronunciation of “monkey” to someone who can’t hear you – such as you, dear readers.
You say it in flat northern vowels, but it’s more than that. The “o” in “monkey” should be ten times as flat as usual, pronounced like a German “u” with the lips pushed forwards in a bell shape, and the “ey” at the end sounds like “eh.”
Why do I want to tell you about “Right, monkey”? Because it’s a wonderful two word phrase that encapsulates a huge thought. “Right, monkey” SAYS  “I’ve got your number and I’ll get you sorted. You think you’ve got one over on me, but I have the trump card up my sleeve.” BUT you don’t say it to the monkey in question, you say it ABOUT the monkey in question when you’re recounting the story to a third party.
e.g “So he says this, and I thought to meself, right, monkey.”
Nice, eh?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best pitch

According to Mosaic Man, the towel rails I bought from John Lewis had ridiculously unfeasible fittings, so yesterday I took them back. And on the trip I got talking to the Big Issue seller on Division Street. He said he’d been standing there for 2 hours and only sold two issues, so I suggested he walk down the road to John Lewis.

He told me he wasn’t allowed to do that because it wasn’t his pitch. But what is much more interesting is that the John Lewis pitch is one of the best ones in Sheffield, so every month the Big Issue sellers put their names in a hat and two names are drawn – one for the morning and one for the afternoon. So next time you want a Big Issue, remember that the John Lewis seller has an advantage, and buy it from someone on a different pitch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dave’s answer

(see last post – and yes, I know the purple has to go.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The longest running DIY project ever

Here it is – the finished bathroom floor…

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And here is the man who did it…

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Dave and I have been together since the beginning of time, and he’s been doing DIY since well before then. The first project he did for us, was to put up an electric Creda heater in our first kitchen, because we had no hot water, no bathroom, and no inside loo. The second job was to put up a light in the outside loo, so we didn’t need a torch for midnight visits.

The current bathroom knock-through/renovation has been going on since February, which is longer than it took to build our extension. There are various reasons for this – work demands and family demands and waiting for the plumber being three of them. Another is that we both loathe shopping. As Dave does the DIY, I feel I should do the shopping. But almost everything in the bathroom needs a practical eye as well as an aesthetic one. And I am a child in the material world. So the bathroom is still not finished. The towel rails I bought last week must all go back to John Lewis. The colour on the walls is wrong – it was a big mistake even before we decided on the colours for the mosaic. And I haven’t even mentioned the tiles round the bath which were a joint mistake, which we’ve now decided must be replaced. We have never made so many mistakes before. It’s been one of those years. (If Wendy from Plotting for Beginners were here, she would say it’s because I’ve had Neptune transiting my IC, but what does Wendy know?)

In the meantime, Dave has unearthed an ancient treasure from the shed and put it on the bathroom wall…

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Tune in tomorrow to see what it is.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Too intense

A few years ago, before Zuzu’s Petals was published, my bereavement journal about my father was going to be published as a self-help book. The publisher asked me to write a second part to it which I called Becoming a middle-aged orphan, which described the experience explicitly and offered tips for coping which I had researched from friends and from books about bereavement.

I sent it to a dear friend today, my sister-in-law, as her mother has just died and I thought it might be helpful. But my experience of losing my mother has been so very different from losing my father, that it made me wonder how I would have written the piece if I’d been writing it now.

The truth is I couldn't have written it now. Someone at the Buxton Festival asked me whether I’d have been able to cope better with the death of my mother, if I'd written about it, just as I did about my father. "Yes," I said, "maybe, but I couldn’t write about her. I tried, and every time I tried, I broke down."

Ma  and Sue in Morecambe

Then later I remembered that I'd blogged about it, for example, this post. And there are several other posts in November and December that I wrote about my mother, and how much I missed her. The irony is that she would have hated it. She was a private person. But this is my life (now) and if I want to tell the world that I love her and miss her, I can.

She was my rock. I love her, and miss her.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

PR Blunder

NOT a good idea to post that photo of me on here yesterday. It makes me look ten years older than I am. Yes, really.

I told Dave the comments I related here yesterday and his response was “The photo makes Jen and you look like a couple of old biddies - biddies with attitude.”

My younger son, home for the day, said “The caption should be…If you go faster than forty, my wig will come off!

So then Dave suggested a caption contest for the photo. This would be great if anyone other than Wendy ever posted comments on here. Yes, that is a challenge to all you silent lurkers.

This is Wendy – the person I would most like to go on a road trip with when I have my US bestseller.

wendy on road trip

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Soft tops

Take a look at the last post to see my sister Jen and me, 50 years ago. Now look at us in Wensleydale at the weekend.

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This is a rare sighting because

  1. the last time I rode in a convertible, I was 17
  2. Jen and I live 200 miles apart so it’s not often anyone takes a picture of the two of us together
  3. Jen hates having her picture taken anyway (which Wendy from Plotting for Beginners would say is because she has the sun in Scorpio and the moon in Pisces, but what does Wendy know?)

I emailed the photo to my son and daughter-in-law in the US and they responded thus…

Daughter-in-law: Look at you two babes! Hot mamas on the road, watch out!

Son: Lovely picture. You look a lot like gran!

I think it’s clear why i like my daughter-in-law so much.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Keeping me company

Sue(6) & Jen(4)

I’ve just been to stay at my mother’s house for the weekend. I was all packed up and ready to go there on Friday, but then I couldn’t face it, because the last time I went – in April – I was so upset that my mother wasn’t there. And I didn’t want to go again and find her not there again. But my sister Jen (see above with me) and my brother Pete (see below with me) were going too, and I didn’t want to let them down. So I went, and I’m glad I did. We had a good time, and there were only a couple of times I broke down in tears.

Once was when I was looking in a drawer that I thought we had already cleared and found a box of letters my mother had saved, and in amongst them was something she had written out on a scrap of paper. It was a quote which I have never liked, but which she obviously did, because we have found it before, in amongst some other papers, as if she had left it there for us to find, as a comfort.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used…

When I slept in her bed that night, she didn’t feel far away. But I don’t think she was waiting at the house for us; I think I took her there with me, in my head.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


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This is how squishy the adhesive is before it sets.

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This is what the second half of the bathroom floor looked like this afternoon, after Dave had been working on it all morning. Then, before the adhesive had set, I rushed in to hang up a towel and forgot about what had been happening for the last four hours – yes, really - and trod on it. Dave had to remove two foot shaped sections. In the circumstances, his response was restrained.Respect.

Temporary sunshine

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It was sunny and warm enough to sit in the back garden yesterday and read a book. I also had a small chat with my mother, who seems - occasionally - to have taken up residence in my head. She thought the garden was looking lovely, and she gave me a word of encouragement, which is just what I needed. Thank you, Ma.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Penultimate draft

Here it is – half the bathroom floor. Like a piece of finished text, it needs polishing: there are bits of adhesive and grout on the surface of some of the tiles, and the others need a good wipe over. But even as the penultimate draft it looks fab – yeah!

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Child’s Play

My daughter is now home from her hols but she’s ill. That’s what happens when you take a 3 year old and a 5 year old away for a camping holiday: exhaustion. The 5 year old said his favourite thing about the holiday was the U-Bahn, and the younger one said his favourite was the S-Bahn. But what did they like best about the German campsite? Easy – it was the first night, when they went to the cafe and had chips with tomato ketchup.
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I went to play with them yesterday morning so Zoe could go back to bed. I had an EXCELLENT time. We had dinosaur races, played policemen, cafes, and railways. My favourite thing about the morning was the mucky-gucky machine.
When I got home, Dave – who was suffering from housemaid’s knee after working on the floor all morning (see the last post) -  said I looked bushwhacked.
“I am,” I said. “I’ve been playing for four hours solid. I need to put my feet up and watch Chuggington.”

Friday, August 07, 2009

The bathroom floor: a work in progress

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Laying a mosaic bathroom floor is like making a patchwork quilt is like writing a novel. The idea is exciting, and you get carried away by the vision you have in your head. Oh, it will be fabulous!

Then you begin the actual work, and you wonder why you started. Whose idea was it anyway? Each part of the process – whether it is cutting tiles or cutting out patches or working out the plot, mixing adhesive or pinning patches or working out the plot (OK, the comparison has broken down – plotting is the only bit of writing that isn’t plain sailing), whether it involves sore knees or pricked fingers or…it’s hard work, and it goes on forever. This is the very last time I make a mosaic or a quilt or write a novel!

In every case, creativity is not enough. You also need to be dogged. Happily, everyone who lives in this house is dogged (apart from the cat) and the mosaic is taking shape. Soon it will be finished and grouted and beautiful, I think it’s looking great already. Rock on with the Roman knot, Dave!

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

One woman’s meat is another woman’s nut rissole

holy island treat


I mentioned – didn’t I? – that When We Were Bad is my current favourite novel. Yesterday I looked up Charlotte Mendelson, the author, on Amazon, to see what else she’d written, and I checked the readers’ reviews of WWWB. Almost all were complimentary – no surprise there. But one reader who didn’t like it said it was turgid (what?!) and that there was no warmth in it and the characters were two dimensional. What???? How could they say that???? The novel is warm and the characters are fully realised as believable people. The novel is engaging from beginning to end. And it is funny. How could anyone say it is turgid?

If someone can criticise a masterpiece in that way, then it  makes me feel a whole lot better about the following comment from a reader at my local library  “Zuzu’s Petals was better than Plotting for Beginners, which was absolute rubbish.”

And now here’s a confession: I didn’t rave over a recent prize winning literary best-seller, which was considered to be comedic. I didn’t find it funny, and I thought some of the humour was cruel. It is no doubt obvious to you, dear reader, that there is no accounting for taste, but it is hard to remember that when you are the writer whose book (i.e. baby) is being damned.

Now check this out, and make sure you keep reading down, beyond the ads.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Make hay

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Hooray, it’s not raining today! Last week, the streets of Bakewell were filled with disconsolate holidaymakers in sodden cagoules. Oh, those poor families who were camping…I saw them trogging along the streets, dripping wet, and wanted to scoop them up and bring them home and let the children play with the stuff in the toy cupboard, while the parents put their feet up in the sitting room.

It’s hard enough when you’re not camping to keep cheerful with incessant rain. I am sitting here with a mug of Earl Grey tea, clearing out my in-tray and trying to drum up the enthusiasm to make a start on the household accounts (which is why I am blogging instead.) Meanwhile, Dave is upstairs ogling new bikes on t’internet. We need to go out NOW for our walk. The rain will be back this afternoon, and that’s when I should do the accounts and Dave should tile the bathroom floor. Make hay while the sky is grey but there’s nothing actually falling from it. Ah…an English summer.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Different kinds of silence

I drove into town on Thursday to collect the tiles for the bathroom floor, and while in town I called at my daughter’s house. I’ve been charged with watering her plants while she is away on her hols. Usually when I walk in her door, I am hit by a wave of noise…happy noise, tired noise, or manic tantrum noise. Sometimes someone is crying. Occasionally the inhabitants are sitting silently eating their tea.

On Thursday the house was dead. It was silent. I am a person who likes silence. I am a Quaker, and Quaker meetings contain a lot of silence. But the silent house on Thursday was eerie and sad. I hated going into that lifeless space, with no small person rushing out of the playroom shouting "It's Sue!" and then engaging me in chatter about dinosaurs or pirates, or giving me a tuneless but hearty rendition of Bob the Builder.
I never thought I would feel like this about my grandchildren, but I'm just as soppy about them as the next grandmother. As the midwife in the Jessops Hospital said to me: “Grandchildren are nature’s reward for not strangling your teenagers.”